Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eating My Way through Kansas City

Kansas City Barbeque

"You can't go home without tasting BBQ," said my host and so I sat down again to dine, this time at Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbeque in the Plaza. "Zagat's rated this place number one (for barbeque) in the country," she continued. And, we began noshing yet another meal ... starting with burnt ends as an appetizer. Kansas City originated these two-inch cuts of beef ribs renown for their charcoal-black crusty edges - the parts everyone fights over like the baked corners of lasagna.

"Killer," I said.

For the entree we ordered a combo platter of sliced beef, pork and lamb ribs with beans and coleslaw as sides. Jack Stack's meats are slow-cooked and covered in Kansas City style barbeque sauce which means a sauce that's tangy, semi-sweet, and tomato-based. Everyone knows Kansas City barbeque is the best. Right? Now don't remind anyone from Texas, Memphis or Carolina.

I attacked with my fingers and, needless to say, it's messy dining, but honestly the only way to devour the mouth wateringly delicious morsels. Soon, I was stuffed, beyond stuffed, but Toni insisted we sample dessert. "Just a bite," she argued. 

Presto. Our waiter descended with warm carrot cake drizzled with cream cheese frosting that oozed down the sides. Need I say more?

That was Sunday dinner, my final meal of a two-day whiz-bang tour and food extravaganza in Kansas City, Missouri. I do not even want to imagine the calories. 
Oversized guest rooms at the Ambassador Hotel
Ambassador's Chef Geoffrey van Glabbeck

Saturday had begun with an early lunch: a burger suggested and prepared by Chef Geoff van Glabbeck at the swanky new Ambassador Hotel downtown.  The juicy beef patty was served between a pretzel-bread topped bun-- yummy American comfort food at its best. For dessert, a plate of warm, fresh from the fryer, beignets appeared covered in a snowstorm of confectioner's sugar. Certainly not a bad way to start a day or finish lunch -- but little did I know what was in store.

We stopped by the Farmer's Market, a bustling hum of happy shoppers among piles of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. Nearby, the  Steamboat Arabia Museum sat in an underground nook. The venue turned out to be a surprisingly memorable museum with an impressive display of everyday objects that were sealed in the mud when the steamer sank in 1856.  The story of this local recovery effort reads like a modern day treasure hunt. Some have called it "the King Tut's Tomb of the Missouri River." Why, even the Smithsonian has their eye of some of Arabia's pristine quality artifacts.  

Farmer's Market and Arabia Steamboat Museum

Off to the Kemper for a tour of contemporary art. I was delighted to run into some neon-green Chihuly glass. I'd been finding this artist's glass-works in numerous museums across the country and the Kemper piece looked like a bubbly garden of see-thru gourds. The Kemper's special showing of map-themed media was shall I say, a trip. Toni explained that all art museums in KC are free.  How cool is that?
Chihuly Glass at Kemper Art Museum

"Time for an afternoon snack," she said, stopping by Andre's, the city's number one chocolatier.  I chose an Aztec truffle from the delicate creations arrayed in the case. However, I saved it for later because we continued down the street for artisan ice cream at Glace. Oh my! I consumed a serving of salted caramel and chocolate. That certainly should have been enough to keep me full all night.

Aztec Chocolates

But, no. We had dinner reservations at Bristol Seafood Grill in the Power and Light District. I attempted to eat light by ordering the fresh catch of the day. Ha! The fish was too sensational to resist.  Bristol's seafood can rival any well-known steakhouse in Kansas City any day.

I was also intrigued by the glass bin for recycling wine corks placed near Bristol's front door. Locals pop in and drop off corks like folks do with used printer cartridges at the office supply store. Cheers to an eco-conscience restaurant and community.

Cork Recycling at Bristol's Seafood Restaurant

A soulful two-man play (The Screw Tapes) followed at the gleaming glass and chrome Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The building's dramatic architecture is reminiscent of Sydney's soaring Opera House and is alone worth a visit. The Kauffman, completed in the fall of 2011 at a cost of $413 million, boldly declares Kansas City's commitment to live theater, the symphony, ballet and opera.

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Eggs Benedict at Bluestem
Omlet at Bluestem

Banana French Toast at Bluestem
Come Sunday morning I wasn't scheduled for activities until brunch. I awakened early and hate to admit the audacity of nibbling my truffle in bed with morning coffee. But, I did. Even so, I devoured brunch at Bluestem Restaurant in Westport which prides itself on local ingredients. That and the fact that Chef Garrelts was nominated for a James Beard award.  A birthday at the next table allowed me the opportunity to take photos of the gorgeous plated dishes. I spied Eggs Benedict, and knew what to order-- one of my all-time favorites. Not only were the eggs poached to perfect semi-softness, the accompanying salad was a taste of springtime joy: light and refreshing.
A Caavaggio in the Nelson-Atkins

Courtyard Cafe at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

We were then off to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the most architecturally complex art museums I have ever visited. The building contains numerous internal structures: chapels, villas, oriental temples and massive columned lobbies as well as one of the best Asian art collections outside China. One room featured an immense Buddha and Toni said yoga classes are sometimes scheduled there.

World War I Museum in Kansas City
The afternoon was not yet complete; we drove to the National World War I Museum- the only World War One museum in the United States.  The design is by the architect who created the Holocaust Memorial in DC.  As you enter you cross over a glass bridge above a garden of orange-hued artificial poppies. The guide explained that each of the 900 flowers represent 1,000 causalities in the war. Whoa- that statistic gave me goose bumps. What I soon came to realize was my scant understanding of WWI. I suspect most folks learn a great deal from the interactive displays and films with smoke and special effects.

Afterward Toni drove around the city so I could see State Line Road, the border into Kansas- but not Kansas City, Kansas--that's across the river. We then did what women are likely to do, stop to shop at the upscale Country Club Plaza. This 15-square block of Spanish architecture shops was built in 1922 (I would never have guessed). In fact, the Plaza was the first shopping style mall designed with the new fangled automobile in mind.  Many of the buildings reminded me of my hometown, St. Augustine, Florida which flaunts Spanish style architecture. However, St. Augustine charms with tiny streets and alleys while the KC Plaza pleases with high-end shops on wide open and airy courts. 

Country Club Plaza in Kansas City

We then exited a department store, turned the corner and found Jack Stack's BBQ. My waistline hasn't recovered yet.